Tony Blair today launched a passionate defence of the war in Iraq, saying that September 11 came as a "revelation" to him and persuaded him of the need to act against rogue states.
The Prime Minister openly acknowledged that his decision to go to war was the most divisive he had ever made, conceding "it remains deeply divisive today".
In a speech in his Sedgefield constituency the Prime Minister went on: "The nature of this issue over Iraq, stirring such bitter emotions as it does, can't just be swept away as ill-fitting the preoccupations of the man and woman on the street."
That was because the nature of the "global threat we face in Britain and round the world is real and existential and it is the task of leadership to expose it and fight it, whatever the political cost".
Mr Blair, in a detailed defence of the case for war against Saddam Hussein's regime, said: "No decision I have ever made in politics has been as divisive as the decision to go to war in Iraq. It remains deeply divisive today.
"I know a large part of the public want to move on. Rightly they say the Government should concentrate on the issues that elected us in 1997: the economy, jobs, living standards, health, education, crime.
"I share that view and we are."
But the premier said the issue of the conflict had to be tackled head-on.
He said there had been three inquiries into the conflict, including the Hutton report, and none had shown any Government attempt to falsify intelligence in relation to Iraq.
And the Prime Minister said he had mentioned the now notorious 45-minute claim about the readiness of Saddam's weapons only once in his statement to MPs and had not mentioned it again in any debate.
Mr Blair said he had never insisted Saddam was an imminent threat to the UK and read extracts from his own speeches to back his claim.
He went on: "The truth is, we went to war to enforce compliance with United Nations resolutions."
And he added: "Had we believed Iraq was an imminent direct threat to Britain, we would have taken action in September 2002. We would not have gone to the UN. Instead, we spent October and November in the UN negotiating UN resolution 1441. We then spent almost four months trying to implement it."
Mr Blair said the controversy over the Attorney General Lord oldsmith's legal advice on the legitimacy of the war was just the latest row over the conflict, and would be replaced by another.
Lord Goldsmith had said the war was legal. "It is said this opinion is disputed. Of course it is. It was disputed in March 2003. It is today. The lawyers continue to divide over it - with their legal opinions bearing a remarkable similarity to their political view of the war.
"But let's be clear. Once this row dies down, another will take its place and then another and then another.
"All of it in the end is an elaborate smokescreen to prevent us seeing the real issue: which is not a matter of trust but of judgment.
"The real point is that those who disagree with the war, disagree fundamentally with the judgment that led to war."
Mr Blair conceded: "What is more, their alternative judgment is both entirely rational and arguable."
The decision to intervene in Kosovo, Afghanistan or Sierra Leone had not been "a hard decision" for most people, said Mr Blair.
But he went on: "Iraq in March 2003 was an immensely difficult judgment. It was divisive because it was difficult. I have never disrespected those who disagreed with the decision ...
"There was a core of sensible people who faced with this decision would have gone the other way, for sensible reasons. Their argument is one I understand totally."Reuse content